Friday 7 August 2015

Avner Baz on the final section of Avner Baz' 'On when words are called for'

“Dear Tim,

I just read your post about the paper. Thank you so much for reading it and commenting on it.

I wrote the paper almost 15 years ago, but the basic argument is simple and still seems to me to be sound (McDowell has since retracted the idea, which was the target of my paper, that our experience contains claims, or has propositional content):

The content of a judgment (what Travis later came to call ‘auto-representation’) of perception, and similarly the content of an utterance describing what someone else is seeing, or saw, just like the content of any utterance, is context-dependent. So of course I could, given a suitable context, say what you see, and you could say what you see, and it could also be said that what you said was the same as what I said—so we could be said to be attributing the same content to your visual experience. But the content of any of those utterances is context-dependent—the words by themselves, apart from some suitable context, (would) leave it indeterminate. And the problem with McDowell (of Mind and World and ‘Having the World in View’) is that he wants to say—he SAYS—that the very same content that such utterances would have, was somehow already in the experience—independently from being articulated in one way or another, in a context suitable for such articulation (Travis would say independently of being auto-represented)—just by virtue of your being a competent speaker and awake, and facing the cube, or the tree. And THAT idea, I argue, cannot be made sense of. In attempting to make sense of it, McDowell relies on the words that could, given a suitable context, be used to say what someone (or oneself) sees, or saw. And that reliance betrays a misunderstanding—which I suspect McDowell himself would have disavowed if it were presented to him explicitly—of how language functions.